I was surprised to read that an important part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) still hasn’t been finalized. Final rules were supposed to be issued last year about making websites ADA compliant, but have been delayed to next year.
However, this hardly means that businesses required to meet ADA requirements for physical access—schools, public buildings, and “places of public accommodation”—should remain ignorant where their websites are concerned. There are proposed rules to follow for now and it’s a safe bet that they are very close to what the final rule will look like.
Honestly, there really is no reason for their websites to not have basic accessibility tools in place by now.
A Google search will identify articles, tools, and experts to help you understand steps you can take to make your site more accessible. And guess what: people with disabilities and their families are potential customers. They buy stuff, go out to eat, and enjoy the same entertainment as the rest of us. Why lose an opportunity for more sales?
Modern Websites Can Offer ADA Compliant Tools
I recently worked a short contract for A Very Large Company that falls under ADA accessibility rules. It’s got wide, powered doors for wheelchair users, Braille elevator controls, and accessible restrooms. I spotted one blind employee. But the “AVLC” website isn’t ADA-compliant, at least as far as current guidelines suggest it should be for an organization its size.
People inside AVLC are aware and understand that the old web technology they use is a problem. Although one tool is a Microsoft product, the latest IE update impacted its functionality. Some of its functions actually work better on Chrome.
If Microsoft can’t be bothered to update an old tool, why continue using it?
The AVLC people I worked with expect to have new and presumably compliant web software in place in 2019. I’d bet the barn that ADA still won’t be finalized by then and they’re probably counting on it. Still, this keeps them from communicating with all their customers.
I’m a small business and do not run a place of public accommodation, so I don’t have to concern myself about ADA rules. But that doesn’t mean I can’t take a few steps to make my website a friendlier place for a person with limited vision to visit and think, hmm, I wonder if she’s available for blogging? (Yes! I am!)
I’ve added a few tools that help low-vision visitors get around my site a little easier. The most obvious one is a little toggle menu off to the left that provides larger fonts and greater contrast. It came from a free WordPress plugin I’m testing and I’ll happily make a donation to its designer if all goes well.
WordPress has a number of plugins that provide everything from testing your site to identify ADA gaps to providing general and very specific fixes. You can search the WordPress theme repository for ADA-compliant themes. (Be sure to refresh if you use this link.) WordPress’s own accessibility team posts updates, news, and recommended tools.
The ADA Changed America for the Better
The ADA, of course, literally opened American doors to persons with disabilities. And that’s a good thing.
- Curb cuts and wider doors let people who use wheelchairs (and later, scooters) get around more easily.
- Braille readouts on ATMs, elevators, and directories allow people with low or no vision to more fully participate in commerce.
- Use of close-captioning tools brings more deaf people into worksites, cinemas, and theaters.
Curb cuts are helpful to parents pushing strollers and kids learning how to ride a bike. And many of us have used the larger accessible restroom stall not only for its purpose but to also to keep a little one close by and change clothes and/or diapers.
ADA also made us work more intelligently.
Think about innovations like IM, texting, and other person-to-person communications that helped office communications and cut down on chatter that makes it hard to write. They also reduced the instances of the embarrassing or annoying “reply to all” on email.
I remember reading about a deaf colleague in New Orleans who was stranded during Hurricane Katrina. She worried about using up her cell phone battery trying to contact a sister out of state via the TTY tool. Mobile communications were jammed and calls couldn’t get through—but her text used minimal power and eventually got through as she walked (yes, walked) to the airport to catch a flight out. Guess who came for dinner?
I’m not sure why websites are seen as a greater challenge when it comes to defining ADA compliance and making it happen. But’s it’s theoretically possible to make your site compliant, as attorney Angela Gibson writes in the Cincinnati Business Courier. Lawsuits against businesses with inaccessible websites have “spiked” since early 2015, Gibson says, and companies need to take precautionary measures. The tools are there, and let’s start using them.